“I’ve been traveling since April. I have no deadline,” says FJ, an iOS Engineer and a member of the Mokriya team. Originally from France, FJ is now on the road permanently, bouncing from continent to continent, all while holding down a steady job.
Remote work has become a kind of beacon of the ideal 21st century lifestyle. The remote worker is a global citizen without a mortgage or the other traditional trappings of adult life. They gracefully build and grow a career all while exploring the world. It sounds great, doesn’t it? And it is. The success and rapid proliferation of so many remote teams proves that. But there’s another aspect to the remote life that we don’t discuss often enough: The many skills professionals need in order to thrive within this unique approach to living and working.
The freedom of remote work requires a lot of planning, grit, organization, resourcefulness, and focus — all skills that benefit the team they work with. If you can make the digital nomad life work, you can do just about anything. To be successful as a member of a remote team, you need to be able to work in distracting environments, you have to know how to stay on task without managers breathing down your neck, and through it all you have to find a way to juggle a “normal” schedule (working, socializing, exercising, etc.) on top of your travel plans.
Remote work isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. You can (and should) actively work on developing remote work skills if you plan to give this life a try. Below FJ shares how he made the transition from a traditional 9-5 life to a full time remote worker and permanent traveler, and what he does to keep himself on track on even the most chaotic days.
How did you discover remote work? Is this your first experience at a remote company?
After living in Montreal for 3 years and Paris for 1 year, I moved to Toulouse and I had a hard time finding a job that was interesting to me. I was only finding jobs at banks and insurance companies, so I started looking for a good remote project in something interesting and I found Mokriya. I ended up working remotely, and after five months at Mokriya, I decided I wanted to travel while working.
Where are you right now?
Last time we talked I was in Colombia. Right now I’m in Montreal, Canada. I arrived this weekend and they lost all my luggage. I have nothing. Hopefully it will come tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
How do you structure your day while traveling? Do you keep consistent hours?
So I have one routine — it revolves around the project I’m on. Right now I’m adjusting myself to the routine of a new project. We have a daily stand up at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. So every day I’m there, wherever I am. That’s the cornerstone of my schedule.
Do you work a certain number of hours each week or does it fluctuate?
How many hours I work depends on how much work there is to do. If I have a lot to do I will work more, if I don’t I’ll work less. If I have to do something in the morning, I’ll just work in the afternoon or evening — If I have something to do all day, I’ll work in the evening or at night. If I can do just a classic day, like 9-6 or 9-7, I will try to do that. But it doesn’t happen very often.
So do you keep a to-do list? What other tools do you use to stay productive?
I have a personal to do list for my personal goals, but for work we use JIRA. We use Zoom for our daily stand-ups. I also use Trello for my personal stuff. And then there’s Google Apps, Google Drive, all those kinds of tools.
And what would you say is the biggest challenge to working remotely?
I think the first thing is to be rigorous with yourself. You really need to have your task done when it needs to be done, so you really need to motivate yourself to work even if you’re not in the mood. To able to work remotely you need to be structured but really flexible as well.
Did you struggle to stay on task and productive when you first started working remotely?
Yes. And I wasn’t traveling when I first started, I was just by myself. The first month was hard so I went to a co-working space every day. I forced myself to go there every morning. After doing that for a few weeks it becomes natural, then I was able to be more flexible with myself.
Tell me about a time working remotely and traveling was particularly challenging.
I was traveling with a friend in North Colombia. During the day we were doing touristy stuff, so I started work at 7 p.m. The task I was working on took way longer than I expected — it was way more complicated than I’d realized. We had to get on a bus at 5:30 a.m. and by 5 a.m. I still wasn’t done. I was almost done, though. I got on this tiny bus and tried to finish my work over 3G. We drove deep into the Colombian woods, where there is no 3G service. So there I was with my laptop, in the dark, while everyone else on the bus was sleeping, and I’m trying to push my code over and over. It took me like an hour just to send it. My friend was laughing so much.
How has remote work changed you, personally and professionally?
When you travel for a long time, when you go to all these different countries, and you learn all these different languages, and you meet so many people, you become so much more open-minded. It’s a rich experience and you learn so much. You are discovering the world and it’s really hard after that to just sit in an office somewhere every day. I’m liking this lifestyle so much that I cannot see myself going back into an office, even in the long-term. I feel so positive, so creative because of everything that’s going on around me — and also the freedom to work when I want. It’s amazing.
Do you miss having co-workers around you during the day?
Yes. I think that human social interaction is really important. Some people are okay with not interacting with anyone all day, but I’m not like this, I really like human interaction. But something I’ve learned from being remote is that when you’re in an office, you can actually have too much interaction. You lose time and because of all that interaction you can become less productive.
So how do you balance that need for socialization with the need for productivity?
The first solution is a co-working space, where I can meet people and work near them but we’re not working on the same projects. The second thing is to find a co-living space or some other place to spend with other digital nomads. In Medellin, Colombia they have a 20mission — there’s another one in San Francisco — which gives you a room in an apartment with other digital nomads, students, artists, and all kinds of travelers. I lived there for two months.
Did you travel a lot before in your life before remote work?
I always knew I loved traveling — I did some traveling in Europe and Canada — but until I started at Mokriya, I never had the opportunity to do long-term travel.
What do you do when you have trouble focusing and staying on task?
I think that’s one of the things that isn’t so different between being remote and being in an office. I still do the same things now that I did then. I’ll take a 20-minute break, or listen to some music, or take a short nap. That usually works. What’s changed though with being remote is that not everyone around you is on the same schedule. So if I’m living in an apartment, it’s 9 p.m., I haven’t got my work done, and my roommates bring over people, yes, I would struggle to stay on task. I want to make friends, but I also need to work. That kind of thing has happened before but usually I organize my time in advance so that these things don’t happen. It just takes planning.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start working remotely while traveling?
I would say first adapt yourself to remote work to get some stability. Don’t go traveling directly. You need to learn how to keep your hours consistent. So stay where you are for two or three months, until you feel comfortable with it and you get your routine down. It’s really like you’re discovering yourself at first — you have to take some time to learn about yourself and your habits before you start traveling.